Sunday, January 28, 2018

Hobbits and History. A personal reminisce.

This week, my good friend Delta wrote a very interesting post regarding his reading The Hobbit for the first time. This led me to reminisce a bit about my own history with the book, and its much grander sister work The Lord of the Rings.

I was gaming regularly with Delta back when the Lord of the Rings movies first hit the scene back in 2001. I remember being taken aback that several members of my gaming circle had reached adulthood as D&D players never having read the books. Then as now I just took it as a lesson that you can never take shared cultural context completely for granted. Everybody's got a different path, after all, and they're all valid.

As for me, the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings are dear old friends. I was a child of five years old when the animated Rankin/Bass Version came out, and was instantly taken with the tale. It still holds up, in my opinion, especially with the likes of John Huston and Hans Conreid in the vocal cast.

    Not long afterward, I think perhaps on the night of its original broadcast if not a few years later, my parents pulled out their copy of the book and started reading it to us every night before we went to bed, followed eventually by the Lord of the Rings.

    My folks weren't hardcore fantasy nerds like I wound up being, but they did have enough interest to sow the seeds. They had all of Tolkien's works, and my Dad had a collection of Howard's "Conan" paperbacks, complete with Frazetta covers and all.

    Flash forward to a few years later. Every summer my Mom would can fruits and veggies for the winter, and while my brother and I helped chop up green beans or run apples or tomatoes thru the squeezo, we'd listen to a 2 record set that was essentially the soundtrack and vocals from the Rankin Bass animation on beginning to end repeat over the course of the long afternoons.

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.
Today and tomorrow are yet to be said.
The chances, the changes are all yours to make.
The mold of your life is in your hands to break.

    My folks saw Ralph Bakshi's animated Lord of the Rings in the theater, but we were much too little to see it at the time, so the most I saw of that movie until much later when I rented it on VHS from our local video store was a coloring book.

Certainly makes the animated movie look better than it was.
Dig those groovy hobbit hairdos.

It wasn't that impressive even in the mid to late eighties when I saw it, and I've always kind of viewed it as a case study of ambition outstripping resources. (Particularly toward the end when it devolved to colorized film footage of guys in bad wigs and gorilla masks acting out the climatic battles around Minas Tirith).

All told, between that, and Rankin Bass' perfunctory attempt at animating "Return of the King" seeing Lord of the Rings on the screen was kind of a mixed bag until the big breakthrough of Peter Jackson's magnum opus in 2001.

Doubling back to the books, however, was a regular thing for me and my family. Especially the Hobbit, which is much more of a complete morsel of a story and easier to savor and digest. (I'm not going to dignify the three part cinematic monstrosity of recent vintage with any more mention than this. Dig up the Rankin Bass version, you'll enjoy it more.)

Autumn was usually the best time to read it, when cooler days and changing leaves formed the perfect natural backdrop to the tales Tolkien spun.

It will always be a good old friend, no matter how the tropes and story elements it introduced are revised and repackaged by fantasy media. Well worth the time getting to know it, which is why I'm happy to see Delta, or anybody else, packing up a bindle of seedcakes and their elven dagger and joining those of us who've gone on this hobbit's holiday before.

Side Note: I have now matched my output for 2016 and beaten my number of posts for 2017. Go me!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Manifestations in Miniature

Whoo hoo! I've officially made more posts than I did in the entire year of 2015!

Sometimes I pick up mini's, especially lovely cheap Reaper Bones, 'cos they're interesting. That's pretty much what happened with all of today's offerings.

First off, a trio of Egyptian deities, or demigods, or whatever you might want to call 'em. Maybe they're animated idols, maybe they're summoned godly avatars, or maybe they're ancient astronauts stopping off for snacks and a chance to use the restroom. Either way they were cool and I collected 'em all like Von Daniken's Pokemons.

Your mummy would know.

Then another sweet translucent, this one in purple. Some kinda spell summoned attack beast or supernatural construct. He only needed some light surface treatment and some highlighting on the teeth and claws, otherwise the translucent plastic provides most of the wow factor. Watch out for this guy if you're gonna wander the foggy moors around your ancestral manor at night. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Piscine peril from the primordial pond.

I call these guys Primordials, 'cos they look like my favorite prehistoric terror fish, the Dunkleosteus. I think they'll be good for really deep caves untouched by strange eons with a little bit of flooding and some cyclopean architecture.
Inka dunka doo!

Monday, January 15, 2018

It's Elemental!

No, not him.
I'm talking about some of the best Bones for your buck. Reaper's large elemental figures. The colored translucents are particularly choice.

As I've said before, their pricing is excellent for a cash poor gamer with delusions of tabletop grandeur like myself. When I needed to make a splash with last year's arch-villain in my Helgacon Thousand Year Sandglass game, nothing says "Boss of the Boss Fight" like a brace of fire elementals at your back. (Admittedly, the way the the game played out it wasn't one of my best, but damn if those beasties didn't make 'em sweat when I first put 'em on the table.)

The Burning Lich and his blazing buddies.

I just wish they'd get around to doing an Air Elemental so I could get the complete set. 

That would be simply Splendid!

Update!: Joy! 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Cloudy with a chance of yetis.

We're getting this where I live tonight.
Hope we don't get any of these.
Better plug in my wand of fireballs, I guess....

Big bullies and little bullies

Lets start at the bottom. Since my Dungeon Kit idea is kind of an intro adventure, I figured I'd include one of the basics as the sort of substrate of monsters in the compact adventures I'm keying up.

Behold, my kobolds!
I did a couple things a little differently with these little guys. Firstly, I made 'em green, just 'cos why not? (They kinda remind me of miniature (miniature miniature?) versions of the classic green, pig faced orcs from the 80's D&D cartoon.)

Honestly, your bog standard Warhammer/Warcraft tinged greenies kinda bore me, so if I'm using orcs and goblins at all (which I tend to prefer not to, again 'cos they're so overused) I tend to paint 'em in different shades than green. Kobolds have a much wider range of interpretation, from rat like scaly dog twerps to stunted little cousins thrice removed to dragons. So I figured for once I'd go green.

Secondly, since I like using minis in play, I decided to base them in groups, to spare myself wrangling a million little individual figs on the tabletop. Since these guys are half a HD to begin with and prefer to attack in droves, it seemed like a logical choice. We'll see how it goes in game.

Due to forgetting that I already owned a pack of Reaper's "Kobold Leaders" I got a nice brace of "big" bodyguards for my kobold sorcerer boss, plus a spare sorcerer in the bits box for undetermined future use.

Moving up the totem pole of dungeon goons, and also 'cos I wanted to work on something non-dinky, we've got some big bruisers.
Mountain Troll, Ettin, and Ogre
Ogres are kinda the intro to man-like monsters that the party needs to use pack tactics on to take down. I've got a few of Warhammer's pretty awesome ogre figs for that purpose, but this guy's part of my recent post-holiday Reaper wave. The ettin's from a couple of years ago, and saw his debut on the table at a seafaring Thousand Year Sandglass game I ran at Helgacon 9. (In a tribute to the classic Popeye cartoon he was backing up an evil pirate captain who also had a giant pet vulture.) Finally, the very Peter Jackson-esque troll who I got as heavy support for a villian that I wound up using other goons for. I think if I was gonna stat him up for Labyrinth Lord he'd either be an armored up hill giant or a runty stone giant.

Anyway, that's the large and small of it...

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Insanity Cards

I would be remiss (one might even say, crazy) if I forgot to mention my friend and longtime dungeon pal Paul is running a crowd sale at The Game Crafter for his innovative Insanity Cards.

The more folks who buy in, the cheaper it'll be for all of us who've bought a copy. So check it out, and try to ignore the hamsters talking to you from under the floorboards. They're cheapskates, and wouldn't know a good gaming product if they had it crammed in their grubby little cheek pouches.

Henchmen and Hounds

One feature of old school type gaming that I enjoy is henchmen. While admittedly they're more mouths to feed, both literally and metaphorically with treasure and XP, having a couple extra hands down in the dungeons can be a really good thing. Especially since there are a LOT of mouths to feed down there and it might be the difference between whether you or your hired help get volunteered for that job.

The best ones develop their own personalities and become just as much a fixture of the campaign as the player characters. (I still fondly remember Melchior (with his missing fingers and his justified pathological fear of wolves) Strang the Unlucky, or good ol' Frog from when I played in Paul's ongoing campaign back in the day.)

Meta game wise, they're a great source of backup characters if your primary character fails their save vs. the big Trapper Keeper in the sky and you don't want to wait to get back into the action until the party extricates themselves and treks all the way back to the tavern to find a new sucker adventuring companion. This is why I always recommend henchies get a full cut of the in-game loot, even if they're only drawing 1/2 exp. It makes an easier transition than the party just deciding all of a sudden the former flunky suddenly gets a pay raise.

So I decided to have some hireling figs on tap with my dungeon kit, just to have 'em.They can also do duty as town guards or bandits if need be. I dunno why I decided to make them kinda like starter Pokémon (water, fire, and leaf types) but the rock/paper/scissors aspect of that may come into play somehow. Who knows?

These guys come in 3 packs so they're a good way to fill out your roster on the cheap. You can also get 'em with spears, bows, and x-bows if you wanna get fancy. I didn't, so sword guys are good enough for me. 

I've also got a faithful porter, for those non-combatant, stuff carrying jobs where you might not want to bring a pack mule or pony down into the depths. Reaper's got a pretty decent peasant with pitchfork and torch. With a little modification to the fork, like maybe turning it into a spear or quarterstaff, they could make a good torch bearer.

Good ol' Yothrick the Downtrodden.

Now another form of dungeon helper I've seen before is someone often has the bright idea of bringing dogs into the scary, monster and trap infested underground. I'm a bit more ambivalent about this. Just like henchmans, dogs are really under the control of the DM, but are a bit more unpredictable since they're animals and unless you've got a druid with the right spells along it might be hard to get 'em to understand or do what you want. 

It pays to remember that they're just dogs, not remote control robots who can bite monsters. They'll spook at really unnatural things like undead or aberrations. They bark, which at the right time could be a vital warning of danger but at the wrong time would be like having your own pet shrieker following you around. Plus if you bring 'em along just to set off traps you probably ought to scratch "Lawful" or "Good" even "Human" off your character sheet if it somehow got on there.

Still, I figured it'd be worth picking up a couple of doggos for either extra help on a delving crew, or even better as K-9 units for any town guard entanglements the party might find themselves in. It's always worth remembering, if the DM allows you to have it, then they get to use it too.
Big puppers. These guys are pony sized in 35mm scale. In fantasy world dog curbs you.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

'Tis the season...

... for me to cover the table with miniatures that need paintin'. It seems to happen around this time of year. I dunno if it's just an after affect of the holidays or making plans for upcoming gaming events.
So this year for Christmas, my nephew got me a bunch of dice sets, which led me to cook up the idea of making a portable, ready to play "D&D kit" for those random occasions where I run into a bunch of folks who're interested in playing but have never had the chance and we all have a few hours to kill and aren't going anyplace.

Okay, it's 00's on a d100, but if that extremely unlikely set of circumstances comes up I wanna be ready for it. Plus it's an excuse to buy more minis, which is one of my few material vices.

Part of the portability factor is having some minis that are nice and durable, and also blazingly cheap. Thus, my selections are all from Reaper's gloriously affordable Bones line. Now that I've sussed out the proper way to prime and seal them, without getting unfortunate chemical reactions and unwanted tackiness, they've become my brand of choice. Did I mention they're inexpensive?

My axe of choice on the tabletop is Labyrinth Lord. It's nice and basic, and easy for me to lift up the hood and tinker with. So for the six dice sets I chose and color matched the classic tetrad of classes (fighter, thief, magic user, and cleric) and filled out the rest with the most popular of the demi-human classes (elf and dwarf). Sorry, halflings. Guess you came up short.
I've got a couple smallish maps from the inestimable Dyson Logos that I need to key up, and I'll make some quickie character sheets, probably laminated so that they can be used with dry erase pens.

Of course, into any dungeon, monsters must fall, so I got some workable basic stock:
Giant Bugs

Miscellaneous Critters

Ochre Jellies
Living Statues
Deep burrowing aberrations and their Brain Beast master
Anyway, that's a good start, but there's so much more to paint and show, so watch this space as the year unfolds.